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View Full Version : Why do Big Publishers feel the need to operate/own vanity presses?



AdamNeymars
03-17-2014, 10:39 AM
HarperCollins: Westbow
Harlequin: Dellarte Press
Penguin Random House: Author Solutions
Simon & Schuster: Archway

The last company that you would expect owning or operating a vanity press is one of the Big Publishers. It's totally different from what authors expect from them.

cornflake
03-17-2014, 10:58 AM
HarperCollins: Westbow
Harlequin: Dellarte Press
Penguin Random House: Author Solutions
Simon & Schuster: Archway

The last company that you would expect owning or operating a vanity press is one of the Big Publishers. It's totally different from what authors expect from them.

To make money?

Why is it the last company you'd expect? They publish books.

Old Hack
03-17-2014, 12:05 PM
It's another income stream for them.

I find it sad that any reputable trade publisher would want to work with a vanity publisher but as so many people who claim to have self-published have actually worked with the names you've listed, Adam, and are offended if one points them towards the definition of vanity publishing, it seems that we're in the minority here.

There are ways that big publishers could provide valuable assistance to self publishers without exploiting them. The big publishers would earn well out of it, too.

Torgo
03-17-2014, 02:28 PM
I do not really have a problem with a trade publisher also owning a publishing services company. I do have a problem with a trade publisher owning a vanity press. From what I know of Author Solutions, their subsidiaries cross the line into the latter worryingly often.

As Old Hack says, there are certainly better ways of assisting self publishers than offering expensive and dubious marketing services.

TheNighSwan
03-17-2014, 05:48 PM
Probably because when they get a MS they don't want, they can forward it to their vanity unit, instead of letting the money fly away.

Putputt
03-17-2014, 05:53 PM
Probably because when they get a MS they don't want, they can forward it to their vanity unit, instead of letting the money fly away.

Huh? Is that the case? I've never heard of that happening.

Old Hack
03-17-2014, 06:46 PM
If they did that, there would be far more writers published with vanity publishers and the internet would be buzzing with outrage. It doesn't happen often, and when it does, people object.

DreamWeaver
03-17-2014, 06:47 PM
Probably because when they get a MS they don't want, they can forward it to their vanity unit, instead of letting the money fly away.
Without the author's permission to forward their query to another house, this would be unethical. (Not that that means no one does it.)

I have heard of questionable smaller publishers and agents doing this, and Author Solutions used to (and might still) pay kickbacks for this kind of referral. Harlequin originally tried something of the sort with Dellarte, and got smacked down pretty hard. IIRC, Nelson originally did the referral dance with Westbow, but also got some extremely bad press and I don't think they do it anymore.

Torgo
03-17-2014, 06:52 PM
If they did that, there would be far more writers published with vanity publishers and the internet would be buzzing with outrage. It doesn't happen often, and when it does, people object.

I would point blank refuse to do this.

Jamesaritchie
03-17-2014, 07:21 PM
Money, writer's be damned.

Little Ming
03-17-2014, 07:31 PM
To make money?

Why is it the last company you'd expect? They publish books.


It's another income stream for them.

That's my reaction too. They want to make more money; it's that simple. That's why I'm glad we have AW, P&E and Writer Beware.


I do not really have a problem with a trade publisher also owning a publishing services company. I do have a problem with a trade publisher owning a vanity press. From what I know of Author Solutions, their subsidiaries cross the line into the latter worryingly often.

As Old Hack says, there are certainly better ways of assisting self publishers than offering expensive and dubious marketing services.

Hm. I think I would be okay with it if they were very clear they were a vanity publisher. But, then again from some of our threads in Bewares vanity publishers tend not to be that honest, Big 5 or not.

Torgo
03-17-2014, 07:56 PM
I think I would be okay with it if they were very clear they were a vanity publisher.

Really I think there's no acceptable way to be a vanity press, because what I think of as a v.p. is one where they are pretending that the books they publish are in some way equivalent to trade published books. A v.p. is always in some sense deceptive, as far as I'm concerned.

Little Ming
03-17-2014, 08:59 PM
Really I think there's no acceptable way to be a vanity press, because what I think of as a v.p. is one where they are pretending that the books they publish are in some way equivalent to trade published books. A v.p. is always in some sense deceptive, as far as I'm concerned.

You're right, especially about the bold parts. But, how do I put this... theoretically, if vanity publishers were clear and honest about what they did, and there were still people willing to publish with them, I would be okay with that. But I understand in the real world vanities do rely on pretending and deception to make their money.

Hopefully, that made sense. :)

KMTolan
03-17-2014, 09:59 PM
Purely business. The big publishers have a streamlined methodology for printing material. Initially, this may have been to service their books but as was pointed out, a revenue stream is not to be ignored. You can also offer print services. Oddly enough, many of the "vanity presses" also offer print services to smaller presses who use them expressly for that and don't care about their other business model.

Kerry

alexaherself
03-17-2014, 10:14 PM
Forgive my pedantry, but "Random Penguin" doesn't actually own Author Solutions: they're both separately owned by Pearson PLC. Pearson also owns other print/publishing-related companies none of which has any real operational connection with "Random Penguin": in other words, it's just another profitable business (and related to the holding company's primary interests).

Torgo
03-17-2014, 10:19 PM
Forgive my pedantry, but "Random Penguin" doesn't actually own Author Solutions: they're both separately owned by Pearson PLC. Pearson also owns other print/publishing-related companies none of which has any real operational connection with "Random Penguin": in other words, it's just another profitable business (and related to the holding company's primary interests).

That was what I thought, too, but AS's boss reports directly to John Makinson of Penguin. It's part of the Penguin org, not off to one side.

Ken
03-17-2014, 11:51 PM
I have an opinion on the matter but I will not state it.

No way in tarnation am I gonna say anything critical about big publishers as these.

They are great and terrific and beyond criticism !

:chair

Filigree
03-18-2014, 12:21 AM
Ken, be critical, but frame it either in the form of an obvious opinion, or something you can back up with observable facts.

I think it's shameful that vanity presses have teamed up with Big Five publishers. I know there is supposed to be a clear legal separation between the vanity ops and the commercial publisher, but let's face it: that's probably as effective a divide as the one between American political candidates and their Superpac fund operators.

Even if the Big Five are not forwarding slushpile manuscripts or their authors' contact info to the associated vanity publishers, the latter are most certainly using their business links to the Big Five companies as advertising material.

I was at the Tucson Festival of the Book this last weekend, and both America Star (formerly Publish America) and AuthorHouse had big booths doing brisk outreach.

The vanity publishers are goldmines for parent companies: their target audience is often ignorant of how publishing *should* work, fanatically loyal to the first 'publisher' who gives them the time of day, and willing to pony up thousands of dollars to publish books that may never sell a single copy in the retail market. All for a dream of income as solid as that from most multi-level marketing schemes, or just the bragging rights to say 'I'm published!' (Most people don't know enough to ask 'How were you published?')

Two or three years ago, I was a lot more outraged about this. Now, after a sustained legal battle I can't talk about yet, and meeting too many vanity-published authors who happily defend their decision, I just have to shrug.

The information is out there to help them make informed decisions, from the US government to Consumer Reports on down to forums like this, Writer Beware, and Preditors & Editors. If these authors can't manage basic research, then they might just be precisely where they deserve to be.

Yes. That's harsh and cold. But it's how the world works.

Ken
03-18-2014, 02:19 AM
Ken, be critical, but frame it either in the form of an obvious opinion, or something you can back up with observable facts.

Thnx for the encouragement; gulp.

Like you, I believe that if writers are gonna be that gullible then they sorta deserve what they get. There are limits of course. Any outright deception or false advertising is out. Not to say that vanities run by these publishers are. I really hope not. These publishers put out a lot of great books. I've come to trust them and hope one day to maybe, possibly write for one.

Reputation is far more important than a few extra bucks in revenue. Lose the former and no matter how big you are your business is going to suffer.

jjdebenedictis
03-18-2014, 05:43 AM
I just wanted to say I love how unanimously writers refuse to say "Penguin Random House" when they could say "Random Penguin" instead. **hugs you all** :D

cmi0616
03-18-2014, 07:35 AM
Money (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cpbbuaIA3Ds)

AdamNeymars
03-18-2014, 10:23 AM
To make money?

There are other ways for the Big Publishers to make money beside from exploiting unsuspecting writers.


Why is it the last company you'd expect? They publish books.

Publishers make money from readers. They publish books. Readers buy them.

Vanity publishers make money from authors. That's where the majority of their revenue come from.

AdamNeymars
03-18-2014, 10:28 AM
Forgive my pedantry, but "Random Penguin" doesn't actually own Author Solutions: they're both separately owned by Pearson PLC. Pearson also owns other print/publishing-related companies none of which has any real operational connection with "Random Penguin": in other words, it's just another profitable business (and related to the holding company's primary interests).

The first thing an unsuspecting writer will see when they go to authorsolutions.com is

Author Solutions, A Penguin Random House Company.

Author Solutions have been using Author Solutions, A Penguin Random House Company in their media releases, emails and ads.

mccardey
03-18-2014, 10:38 AM
Why do Big Publishers feel the need to operate/own vanity presses?

Vanity?


:ROFL:


ETA: Yes, yes I laugh at my own jokes. Bite me.

Old Hack
03-18-2014, 11:30 AM
I have an opinion on the matter but I will not state it.

No way in tarnation am I gonna say anything critical about big publishers as these.

They are great and terrific and beyond criticism !

:chair

If you don't want to say something then don't. But telling us that you have an opinion but you're not going to tell us? Why say anything at all?


There are other ways for the Big Publishers to make money beside from exploiting unsuspecting writers.



Publishers make money from readers. They publish books. Readers buy them.

Vanity publishers make money from authors. That's where the majority of their revenue come from.

I agree, Adam. That's exactly the difference. I think it was Jonathon Clifford who came up with the term "vanity publishing" in the first place, and your summary matches his.


The first thing an unsuspecting writer will see when they go to authorsolutions.com is

Author Solutions, A Penguin Random House Company.

Author Solutions have been using Author Solutions, A Penguin Random House Company in their media releases, emails and ads.

I agree it's inappropriate. But they are part of Random Penguin, so while I agree that writers who know no better are going to make incorrect assumptions from this, I don't think that legally it's misleading. Gah.

The problem there isn't with the parent company, but with AuthorSolutions which is the one exploiting this link.

As I said before, there are much better ways in which publishers could provide services to writers who want to self publish. But it would involve a little effort and involvement from them: with AuthorSolutions, Random Penguin bought a ready-made package which they didn't have to get involved with at all.

We've had discussions about this before, I'm sure. I shall link-hunt if I have time.

bearilou
03-18-2014, 06:14 PM
The problem there isn't with the parent company, but with AuthorSolutions which is the one exploiting this link.

They may be exploiting the link but the parent company has apparently given their blessing for this. Even by their lack of action of distancing from can be considered approval to the unaided eye.


As I said before, there are much better ways in which publishers could provide services to writers who want to self publish. But it would involve a little effort and involvement from them: with AuthorSolutions, Random Penguin bought a ready-made package which they didn't have to get involved with at all.

I'm probably going to open a wound or two here but this is something on my mind a lot lately.

I don't want to turn this into a 'rahrah SP all the way babeeee and trade publishers are crooks'.

But.

Quite honestly, if vanity publishing is considered crooked, and while not illegal, certainly sketchy and suspect while playing on the dreams and aspirations of authors who don't know better, then how is this exactly going to recommend to me that these trade publishers aren't also looking to take advantage of authors?

Trade publishing is already under the gun from self-publishers who want to sell their way as being the best way because all of Trade Publishing is looking to take away control from you. This could be used as another salient point on SPing's side.

I think the one thing going for them now is that they are not rejecting manuscripts and going to the author saying 'but hey, if you really wanted to publish, take a look at this arm of our company'.

If we agree that an agent doing something similar (saying a rejected manuscript needs work and ohhey, I do freelance editing on the side, hire me and let me help you) is sketchy, then by extension, a publisher doing the same is also sketchy business.

It's really hard for me to continue to have trust when I'm standing on the outside and seeing all the stories coming out that are painting trade publishers in less than complementary light. I agree that it's only certain publishers but when you're faced with an overwhelming amount of information and negative press, it can seem as a much larger and wider spread issue.

I also cop to being in a very less-than-my-usual-positive frame of mind so the cynicism is shining through today. :/

tl;dr those publishers who have these vanity press arms may end up doing more damage than good in eroding the already tenuous trust some writers may have in them.

shadowwalker
03-18-2014, 07:56 PM
I think people do tend to forget that publishing is a business - it's not personal. Big publishers are not out to get you (generic you) - they are out to make money. They make money by finding authors who write commercially viable stuff and who, if the publisher doesn't screw them around, will continue to write commercially viable stuff for that same publisher - ie, they'll continue to make money. And because they are a business, they look for ways to ensure they stay in business. I'm quite sure there are other corporations with subsidiaries they aren't particularly enthralled with - but they help ensure survival (ie, bring in money). This is what business is all about.

I think this is one of the problems some SPs have with trade publishing - they take it personally. Publishers are not out to do the authors a favor - they're out to do business with authors. And whether or not an author gets "taken advantage of" depends a lot on business acumen and their ability to negotiate a business contract. Which is why it's good to have an agent.

When people quit seeing publishing as a personal relationship (whether with the publisher, the agent, or the reader) and start seeing it for what it is (a business), then all parties come out better. Or at least, with a lot less unnecessary stress.

Phaeal
03-18-2014, 08:57 PM
Maybe publishers who want to run a vanity press should put this roadmap up on all their public sites:


<-- PATH A We Pay You

PATH B You Pay Us -->


That would about sum it up.

Little Ming
03-18-2014, 10:19 PM
I think people do tend to forget that publishing is a business - it's not personal. Big publishers are not out to get you (generic you) - they are out to make money. They make money by finding authors who write commercially viable stuff and who, if the publisher doesn't screw them around, will continue to write commercially viable stuff for that same publisher - ie, they'll continue to make money. And because they are a business, they look for ways to ensure they stay in business. I'm quite sure there are other corporations with subsidiaries they aren't particularly enthralled with - but they help ensure survival (ie, bring in money). This is what business is all about.

I think this is one of the problems some SPs have with trade publishing - they take it personally. Publishers are not out to do the authors a favor - they're out to do business with authors. And whether or not an author gets "taken advantage of" depends a lot on business acumen and their ability to negotiate a business contract. Which is why it's good to have an agent.

When people quit seeing publishing as a personal relationship (whether with the publisher, the agent, or the reader) and start seeing it for what it is (a business), then all parties come out better. Or at least, with a lot less unnecessary stress.

I agree with all of this from a personal standpoint. My writing is a business and I make my business decision based on, well, a business point of view. It would be great if everyone I dealt with shared my beliefs, but this is the real world. Even away from writing I have to deal with a lot of other businesses that might be invested in other businesses I don't personally agree with.

The one place I disagree with shadowwalker is don't think everyone needs to see this from my point of view. ;) If other writers want to make this "personal," if they want to feel like they have a "personal relationship," then that's up to them.

(Business and personal are not always extreme ends of the spectrum; you can certainly have both. :) But for purposes of this discussion I am talking about them separately.)

To clarify, I don't think vanity publishers are a good idea for the vast majority of writers. I'm for educating people of their options and warning them if a publisher/agent/editor/whatever is not exactly what they appear to be. But I think different people have different goals. Some want commercial success, some want to feel like they have a "personal relationship" with whoever/whatever, some just want to hold a copy of their book in their hands.

Publishing isn't a business for everyone.


tl;dr those publishers who have these vanity press arms may end up doing more damage than good in eroding the already tenuous trust some writers may have in them. Ultimately, I don't think so. To show my own cynicism, I think people who are very serious about making their writing a business will do their research first. And even if they get burned the first time, they will eventually figure it out. That's why we have AW, P&E, Writer Beware and dozens/hundreds of other websites to educate writers about the publishing industry. I do believe those who want to be commercially successful and are capable from separating personal from business will figure it out. (Not necessarily that they will achieve commercial success, but they will learn more about the industry.)

It's going to be the people who are not serious about making this a business decision who will be keeping the vanities alive. Whether it be from ignorance, or maybe they want to vanity publish.

As for "eroding the already tenuous trust some writers may have in them," that's why we have so many options. :) It's not just Big 5 or self-publishing. There are also a lot of independent publishers. And it all comes down to making an educated, informed, whatever-is-best-for-you decision. ;)

MookyMcD
03-18-2014, 10:37 PM
For me, the ethics of it depend entirely on how it's marketed. I don't know, but assume, that most of a publisher's expenses are fixed overhead costs. That means that anything they can be using their equipment to do when it would otherwise be idle is enormously profitable. Or, in a business with very narrow margins, enormously reduces the cost of overhead for their core business. That gives publishers more flexibility to offer contracts on books and/or pay higher advances on books they've put under contract. So, from a purely economic perspective as a writer myself, the more money they can make off vanity authors, the better.

If they are marketing that improperly or unethically, that presents a completely different set of questions. I'm not saying they do -- or don't, for that matter -- I'm just admitting that I'm uninformed. But the core question of

Why do Big Publishers feel the need to operate/own vanity presses?
has a super straightforward answer. Because they have all of the facilities to operate those, there is no risk, it significantly decreases their marginal overhead on their own published books, and it would be almost idiotic not to.

Old Hack
03-18-2014, 11:26 PM
For me, the ethics of it depend entirely on how it's marketed. I don't know, but assume, that most of a publisher's expenses are fixed overhead costs. That means that anything they can be using their equipment to do when it would otherwise be idle is enormously profitable.

What equipment are you referring to here?


If they are marketing that improperly or unethically, that presents a completely different set of questions. I'm not saying they do -- or don't, for that matter -- I'm just admitting that I'm uninformed. But the core question of


Why do Big Publishers feel the need to operate/own vanity presses?

has a super straightforward answer. Because they have all of the facilities to operate those, there is no risk, it significantly decreases their marginal overhead on their own published books, and it would be almost idiotic not to.

The publishers we've been talking about operate their trade and vanity arms as completely separate businesses. They have to: you couldn't ethically have an editor acquiring books for a trade imprint one day, and then signing people to a vanity arm the next: there are far too many conflicts of interest there; and editors and other staff at trade presses are already far too busy with their own jobs. They couldn't also start working on the vanity side, not only would the two jobs not mesh together properly, they wouldn't have the time to do it.

TerryRodgers
03-18-2014, 11:52 PM
I just wanted to say I love how unanimously writers refuse to say "Penguin Random House" when they could say "Random Penguin" instead. **hugs you all** :D


Have you seen a random penguin? They usually come in twos.

MookyMcD
03-18-2014, 11:53 PM
What equipment are you referring to here?


Whether in facilities they own deeds and equipment in, dedicated factories in China that are technically not owned but produce nothing but their products, or actual arms-length contracts with third party suppliers, I assume they keep a minimum amount of productive capacity available. If not, they would be truly unique compared to any other industry I've been involved in. Well, not counting service companies. Definitely would be the first industry that sold tangible products I've ever heard of that didn't do that (or, normally, a combination of all of the above).


Have you seen a random penguin? They usually come in twos.

Random Penguin:
http://www.funnyjunksite.com/pictures/wp-content/uploads/2012/10/Penguins-In-Coats.jpg (http://www.funnyjunksite.com/pictures/funny-bird-pictures/funny-penguin-pictures/penguins-in-coats/)

Torgo
03-19-2014, 12:13 AM
Whether in facilities they own deeds and equipment in, dedicated factories in China that are technically not owned but produce nothing but their products, or actual arms-length contracts with third party suppliers, I assume they keep a minimum amount of productive capacity available. If not, they would be truly unique compared to any other industry I've been involved in. Well, not counting service companies. Definitely would be the first industry that sold tangible products I've ever heard of that didn't do that (or, normally, a combination of all of the above).

Well, PREPARE TO HAVE YOUR MIND BLOWN!!!!

Publishing companies have, besides their offices, two classes of assets: people and rights. I am one of the former; my MIGHTY SKILLZ are worth retaining. Rights to publish your book are in the latter category.

If we need to actually make a tangible product, like a book, we get a third party to print it and ship it. Huge publishing companies may also own their own distribution networks - like the warehouse I visited a few years back, which really is mind-blowing. Miles of conveyor belts and pickers that work on 2 axes, so you can zoom diagonally upwards through the pallets of books.

But in general we don't get our hands inky. The Chinese printers are independent businesses. A company like Author Solutions may, in fact, own a short-run POD printing company. I don't know; it'd probably make sense. That isn't, however, something trade publishers do.

Where trade publishers and self-service publishing companies might share infrastructure is purely in the back office. Accounting, IT, warehousing - that sort of thing. More generalised. The closer you get to the actual books, the more you'll need to specialise.

Old Hack
03-19-2014, 01:01 AM
Huge publishing companies may also own their own distribution networks - like the warehouse I visited a few years back, which really is mind-blowing. Miles of conveyor belts and pickers that work on 2 axes, so you can zoom diagonally upwards through the pallets of books.

Just in case anyone was wondering, the huge publishers which own their own distribution networks provide distribution services to other, smaller publishers. They can't provide these services to vanity publishers, as they require all sorts of things that can't be provided by that business model, such as a good marketing plan and budget, good levels of stock, and a sales team working to sell the books concerned.

Torgo
03-19-2014, 01:21 AM
Just in case anyone was wondering, the huge publishers which own their own distribution networks provide distribution services to other, smaller publishers.

There are basically just two warehousing/logistics providers in the UK now - TBS and MDL. The former is owned by PRH, the latter Macmillan. As far as sales forces go, the Big Five all have their own teams, but smaller houses strike deals with them from time to time to rep their book.

Oh and just on owning printers: it's cheaper to let the Chinese and the Indians compete to give us the best deal on printing, than to buy a printer yourself and try to compete with them. If you try to own the whole supply chain you'll end up having to own forests, and logging companies, and paper mills, etc etc.

MookyMcD
03-19-2014, 01:57 AM
Well, PREPARE TO HAVE YOUR MIND BLOWN!!!!

I'd say mildly surprised that the huge publishers don't have exclusive contracts with the Chinese printers (effectively having a printing operation in China without having to deal with the enormous PITA of trying to run a foreign owned factory in China). Just because I've been involved in all three ways of producing products in China, and once you cross a certain volume, it's easier to just have an "independent company" there that does nothing but manufacture your stuff.

Even then, though, what you're describing isn't unlike what I assumed was the case, just more heavily reliant on true arms-length contracts than I would have guessed.

As I said before, I know absolutely nothing about publishing. I've been involved in manufacturing other things in China, though, and it would surprise me somewhat if someone who required the volume of product the publisher we're talking about in this thread requires (P/R) left the entire thing to piecemeal third party contracts with no guaranteed minimum production capacity. I'm not saying that couldn't be the case, but it would be hard to justify as a business plan.
:Shrug:

Torgo
03-19-2014, 02:07 AM
As I said before, I know absolutely nothing about publishing. I've been involved in manufacturing other things in China, though, and it would surprise me somewhat if someone who required the volume of product the publisher we're talking about in this thread requires (P/R) left the entire thing to piecemeal third party contracts with no guaranteed minimum production capacity. I'm not saying that couldn't be the case, but it would be hard to justify as a business plan.
:Shrug:

That is indeed the case, and the work of a good production controller is to get the best deal among a variety of different suppliers.

We're also talking about things like repro houses as well. I have been in children's books since 2001, trying to shave pennies off production costs to make costings work; I used to say things like 'why don't we just buy a repro house and save ourselves some cash?' Nobody has ever done this. It's possible that it's a brilliant idea that the brightest minds in publishing, who focus every day on increasing our slender margins, have failed to alight on. It's also possible that the economics simply don't work.

EDIT: Just on exclusive contracts: this probably doesn't work for the printers, I think. You want the presses rolling the whole time, and publishing for just one company is going to introduce inefficiencies.

MookyMcD
03-19-2014, 02:37 AM
One thing I just realized I wasn't taking into account at all is the enormous lead time in Publishing. (See, told you I know nothing about this business :) ). I can't think of another industry that decides "Let's manufacture 50,000 of these. A year from now," and then doesn't start production for a year. That would have a huge impact on your ability to schedule.

Geez, though, that process would drive me crazy. I've spent most of my career with products that have a lifespan --from market introduction to obsolescence -- that is often shorter than that.

Torgo
03-19-2014, 02:41 AM
One thing I just realized I wasn't taking into account at all is the enormous lead time in Publishing. (See, told you I know nothing about this business :) ). I can't think of another industry that decides "Let's manufacture 50,000 of these. A year from now," and then doesn't start production for a year. That would have a huge impact on your ability to schedule.

Yep. You're planning to hit a particular publication date, but these things can get rescheduled up to a couple of months before the presses start rolling. They can slip, get brought forward... I ring up the production controller and tell them the art's going to be a week late. She then has to reshuffle all the repro jobs. I tell her there's a correction to an ozalid. The print order goes two days later; everyone has to reconfigure around the new queue. Publishing production controllers and their counterparts on the printing side are kinda wizardly - always saving your bacon.

RedWombat
03-19-2014, 03:04 AM
I have been in children's books since 2001, trying to shave pennies off production costs to make costings work

*points trembling finger* YOU! You're the one who said my paperback releases couldn't have embossed foil like the hardcovers!

"It'll make them more collectible!" they said. "Foil is expensive!" they said.

*screams, runs into tree, falls down*

Torgo
03-19-2014, 03:28 AM
*points trembling finger* YOU! You're the one who said my paperback releases couldn't have embossed foil like the hardcovers!

"It'll make them more collectible!" they said. "Foil is expensive!" they said.

*screams, runs into tree, falls down*

Oh god it's true! It's all true!

There's a meeting called the print and price meeting. Just before the book goes to print, it's your last chance to discuss the print run and the cover finishes. Dark things happen at print and price. Editors go in with foil and embossing and spot UV in the costing, and all too often come out with none of those things. We always fight for the spec, but sometimes...

(Apparently Random managed to deplete the world supply of silver ink reprinting Fifty Shades! The tables turned!)

AW Admin
03-19-2014, 11:42 AM
Two things in publishing people don't realize:


It's all about the slots in terms of scheduling print runs; you book the slots. Then you schedule books. Then you jigger books/schedules/numbers based on production and demand/advance orders.

It's all about the boxes. And how many books of what trim size and spine height will fit. This is less important now with the demise of the spinner rack, but it's still there.


Bonus point: The definitions of signature.

Filigree
03-19-2014, 09:18 PM
I've been present for print & price meetings in commercial art, and those were eye-opening, soul-sucking occasions.

One thing to remember about smaller vanity/subsidy publishers (not necessarily the ones referred to in this thread): they may claim to offer competitively priced offset print runs, but the bulk of their subsidy publishing may be done POD through places like LightningSource. It's more expensive per copy, but these pubs already know they may not be selling thousands of copies per title. So just because a vanity publisher has offset printing capabilities, doesn't mean all their authors will get it. An important contract point to nail down, if anyone's going that route with any 'author services' company.

Xelebes
03-19-2014, 10:45 PM
Whether in facilities they own deeds and equipment in, dedicated factories in China that are technically not owned but produce nothing but their products, or actual arms-length contracts with third party suppliers, I assume they keep a minimum amount of productive capacity available. If not, they would be truly unique compared to any other industry I've been involved in. Well, not counting service companies. Definitely would be the first industry that sold tangible products I've ever heard of that didn't do that (or, normally, a combination of all of the above).

The chain of production is:

Author (w/ Agent) => Publisher => Printer => Distributor => Bookstore => Reader

Terie
03-20-2014, 02:27 PM
Bonus point: The definitions of signature.

Isn't that the squiggly thing at the bottom of the royalty cheque? :tongue

MatthewDBrammer
04-01-2014, 04:26 AM
The chain of production is:

Author (w/ Agent) => Publisher => Printer => Distributor => Bookstore => Reader

With all the hatred of VP here, I do have a question.

Is there really something disastrously wrong with a writer wanting to take the much shorter route of:

Author =>Distributor =>Reader [eBooks]

or

Author => Distributor =>Bookstore => Reader [Print books]

..presuming that the author is sensible enough to not overpay (or pay at all) for the usually subpar and overpriced add-on ["publishing"] services that VPs offer? I mean honestly, VPs do provide a needed service as basically a distributor, if nothing else, for self-published authors who just want their stuff out there and don't have the time or resources (or aren't really trying to make a living as a writer) to handle getting their stuff out on multiple mediums? The basic concept of a VP isn't really that evil; it's only evil if people fall for all the extra stuff or if the parent company abuses the resources of the VP.

DreamWeaver
04-01-2014, 05:35 AM
Mostly because this doesn't exist:

Author => Distributor =>Bookstore => Reader [Print books]You can't take a path that doesn't exist.

It breaks down between the distributor and the bookstore. Books don't just flow from the distributor to the bookstore. The bookstore/chain has to order the books it wants from the distributor. If bookstores don't want it, they don't order it. How do they find out about a book, or come to want to order a book? In almost all cases, from a large publisher's marketing department or the distributor's marketing department (contracted by smaller publishers who meet the distributor's requirements for quality, quantity, solvency and track record). The books stocked on the bookstore's shelves and browsed by customers fall into this category.

Distributors will list most books with an ISBN as available to order. That's how people special-order copies of books the store doesn't stock. However, those go directly to the customer and don't go onto the shelves so they are basically special cases.

MatthewDBrammer
04-01-2014, 05:43 AM
Okay fair enough, I didn't think about that, and I should have. Let me rephrase.

My question about the eBook path still stands.

As far as print books go, what about the author who simply needs the "print on demand" and wants to sell or market their own stuff on their own terms?

I can't fault the VP company for filling a need that exists.

Samsonet
04-01-2014, 05:56 AM
Aren't the VPs that help people usually called self-publishing services?

I think I might be defining things differently from you, because to me vanity press indicates that the press is acting as the publisher in exclusively using certain rights and paying authors a percentage of the money earned. If the author is putting the books out themself and only needs paper copies to be printed when they're ordered, they can always use lulu or createspace.

Sorry if I misunderstood what you said, it's been a long day.

DreamWeaver
04-01-2014, 05:59 AM
As far as print books go, what about the author who simply needs the "print on demand" and wants to sell or market their own stuff on their own terms?
Mostly because the vast majority of authors would pay much less, have at least as good a product, and keep more of any proceeds by simply self-publishing and doing their own print-on-demand.

For people who don't want to do any of the mechanics and are just looking to have a few copies (a family history for the relatives, for instance), perhaps a vanity press would make sense if they found one that charged a few hundred for the book set up, instead of several thousand. That's a situation where the author is not looking to make a profit, though. I can't think of a profit-making scenario where a vanity publisher would be the best alternative, or even a good one.

MatthewDBrammer
04-01-2014, 06:07 AM
Samsonet: No, apparently I'm the one who's confused a bit, as DreamWeaver just shed a bit of light on.

I suppose my confusion arises from the fact that many self-pub companies I have seen have been labelled as VP because a lot of the tactics are the same: offering additional "commercial" publishing services that are outrageously priced and often extremely subpar, as well as accepting and listing literally everything that comes their way on their site, regardless of quality. But, the self-pub services, as long as you don't get pulled into paying for that extra crap, do serve an innocent purpose for many.

So I suppose now I'm slightly confused as to what an actual VP is. Are things like BookTango, Smashwords, BookBaby, etc. considered VP around here? Because I originally saw many of these types of entities elsewhere labelled as VP (due to aforementioned similarities).

Remember, I'm relatively new to the writing industry. Perhaps DreamWeaver can clarify this whole thing more.

jjdebenedictis
04-01-2014, 06:18 AM
As far as print books go, what about the author who simply needs the "print on demand" and wants to sell or market their own stuff on their own terms?

I can't fault the VP company for filling a need that exists.There are companies that do print on demand; they aren't the same thing as vanity presses.

Vanity presses sell writers on the ~dream~ of being published, which they cannot actually actually deliver. Furthermore, they also don't try to--they just fleece the writer for as much money as possible.

Companies that print on demand charge a fair price for their services and are up-front about what they provide, whereas vanity presses are predatory entities that take advantage of naive people.

Based on what you've said, however, I don't think that's what you mean you say "vanity press". I think you're talking more about the more legitimate businesses that give writers other options.

MatthewDBrammer
04-01-2014, 06:28 AM
There are companies that do print on demand; they aren't the same thing as vanity presses.

Vanity presses sell writers on the ~dream~ of being published, which they cannot actually actually deliver. Furthermore, they also don't try to--they just fleece the writer for as much money as possible.

Companies that print on demand charge a fair price for their services and are up-front about what they provide, whereas vanity presses are predatory entities that take advantage of naive people.

Based on what you've said, however, I don't think that's what you mean you say "vanity press". I think you're talking more about the more legitimate businesses that give writers other options.

That clarifies it perfectly.

DreamWeaver
04-01-2014, 06:50 AM
ETA: jjdebenedictus said it better and more concisely, but I'll leave this here anyway. :)

Publishing is changing, so I don't think anything is totally clear anymore :D. However, in the past few years a lot of the vanity publishers have re-branded themselves as "providing self-publishing services". They still do the same things, they just talk about it differently. So it can be hard to separate the genuinely helpful from the snake oil sales :(.

In general, if you are paying them instead of them paying you, you are likely to be in vanity publisher territory. But there is a chance you might be in self-publishing services territory.

I can only tell you what I go by:
--If they deliver you a completely set-up book ready to go to POD/e-commerce with your name or company on it as publisher, and there are no additional monies due them per book sold, I would say they had provided self-publishing services.
-- If they deliver you a cover, or typesetting, or editing, or other set-up services for an agreed fee, I would say they had provided self-publishing services.
-- If their company name shows up as publisher, or the ISBN tracks back to them as publisher, or they take the incoming money stream and pay you royalties, I'd say they are a publisher. If they took money from you to produce, set up, or market a book that they pay you royalties on, I'd say they are a vanity publisher. If they sell copies of your book to you so you can sell it, I'd say they are a vanity publisher.

Another way of looking at it:

Self-publishing: you are in charge of quality control, have your name as publisher, own the ISBN, and receive all income streams from the sale of the book. You may have paid subcontractors for art, typesetting, editing, etc. but the final product and rights belong to you.

Self-publishing with help: You may have contracted with a service to provide quality control, art, typesetting, editing, etc. but the final product and rights belong to you. You own the ISBN and receive all income streams from the sale of the book.

Vanity Publishing: you submitted your book to a publisher, who then charged you for some or all costs of production. That publisher's name is on the book, you have a contract with them that gives them publication rights, and the ISBN belongs to them. Income from sales of the book comes to them and they pay you royalties, or they allow you to buy copies of the book from them to sell. Either way, they get a portion of the ongoing income stream.

Please note, that just because a company offers self-publishing services instead of vanity publishing doesn't mean they are automatically less predatory. There are reasonably priced self-publishing services that offer good quality for the money, and there are companies that offer substandard services for extravagant and ridiculous prices. It's important to research how much it should cost to self-publish before contracting for services. It's also important to check the quality of what they provide. Some are great, some are incompetent, and some are horribly predatory.

MatthewDBrammer
04-01-2014, 07:06 AM
Thanks a ton for the time and thought you put into that.

AdamNeymars
06-01-2014, 07:35 AM
Here are some more information

http://www.bidinotto.com/2014/03/authors-beware-the-new-vanity-publishers/
Authors — Beware the New Vanity Publishers


The Author Exploitation Business (http://davidgaughran.wordpress.com/2013/05/04/the-author-exploitation-business/)

http://gaylefmoffet.com/2011/11/16/lets-call-this-penguin-publishing-thing-exactly-what-it-is/

Let’s call this Penguin Publishing thing exactly what it is


http://indiereader.com/2012/07/penguins-new-business-model-exploiting-writers/
Penguin’s New Business Model: Exploiting Writers By IR Staff The performance of Author Solutions is so poor that the press release announcing the purchase by Penguin can’t even tout their own customers’ success, and instead lists self-publishing stars such as “Lisa Genova, John Locke, Darcie Chan, Amanda Hocking, Bronnie Ware and E.L. James” – none of whom used Author Solutions to publish their work.



As for my opinion, I said it already earlier in this thread. Publishers should make money by selling books, not by exploiting unsuspecting writers. If the writers are informed and still want to pay thousands of dollars to a vanity press, that's just life. But most writers who signed up with vanity press are not informed. If they are, all vanity press would be out of business.

Old Hack
06-01-2014, 10:48 AM
As for my opinion, I said it already earlier in this thread. Publishers should make money by selling books, not by exploiting unsuspecting writers. If the writers are informed and still want to pay thousands of dollars to a vanity press, that's just life. But most writers who signed up with vanity press are not informed. If they are, all vanity press would be out of business.

I couldn't have put it better myself, Adam. Well said.

shelleyo
06-03-2014, 03:06 AM
As for my opinion, I said it already earlier in this thread. Publishers should make money by selling books, not by exploiting unsuspecting writers. If the writers are informed and still want to pay thousands of dollars to a vanity press, that's just life. But most writers who signed up with vanity press are not informed. If they are, all vanity press would be out of business.


I couldn't have put it better myself, Adam. Well said.

Agreed. If you substitute agent for publisher, that pretty much sums up how I feel about agents charging people to help them self-publish (which isn't really self-publishing, because the agents essentially do the publishing).

I can see a few scenarios where it might be good for the author, but very few. And I still think most people who go this route are also uninformed. But for the person who has done the research and really understands the situation--and gets the right agent--it could be better than going it alone. The possibility exists, however slim.

Vanity publishing, on the other hand, whether a big publisher is attached or not, just makes me sad for people and leery of the publishers.



Please note, that just because a company offers self-publishing services instead of vanity publishing doesn't mean they are automatically less predatory. There are reasonably priced self-publishing services that offer good quality for the money, and there are companies that offer substandard services for extravagant and ridiculous prices. It's important to research how much it should cost to self-publish before contracting for services. It's also important to check the quality of what they provide. Some are great, some are incompetent, and some are horribly predatory.

That really can't be stressed enough.

Old Hack
06-03-2014, 10:29 AM
Please note, that just because a company offers self-publishing services instead of vanity publishing doesn't mean they are automatically less predatory. There are reasonably priced self-publishing services that offer good quality for the money, and there are companies that offer substandard services for extravagant and ridiculous prices. It's important to research how much it should cost to self-publish before contracting for services. It's also important to check the quality of what they provide. Some are great, some are incompetent, and some are horribly predatory.

You're right.

I hope everyone will be very careful if they decide to use these services. I've seen a lot of self published books which have been through such companies and not one of them was edited competently, not one had entirely professional production values (for example, none were properly typeset, the internal layout of the books were all peculiar, the physical quality of the book was poor, and so on), not one was appropriately or effectively marketed and promoted.

Some of the books which were fully self-published (by which I mean the author sourced all the services themselves) showed much better results.


Agreed. If you substitute agent for publisher, that pretty much sums up how I feel about agents charging people to help them self-publish (which isn't really self-publishing, because the agents essentially do the publishing).

You and I have discussed this extensively elsewhere on AW, shelleyo.

As I told you there, I know of a few agents who help their authors self publish and do NOT "essentially do the publishing". They put their author-clients in touch with good freelancers, walk them through the processes required, but they do not publish the books for their author-clients.

I agree that writers should be careful about these things, but please don't blanket all agents in together on this one.


I can see a few scenarios where it might be good for the author, but very few. And I still think most people who go this route are also uninformed. But for the person who has done the research and really understands the situation--and gets the right agent--it could be better than going it alone. The possibility exists, however slim.

But if they've talked with their agent, carried out appropriate research, and properly understand the benefits and the limitations of such an approach, are they really uninformed?

shelleyo
06-03-2014, 11:51 PM
You and I have discussed this extensively elsewhere on AW, shelleyo.

As I told you there, I know of a few agents who help their authors self publish and do NOT "essentially do the publishing". They put their author-clients in touch with good freelancers, walk them through the processes required, but they do not publish the books for their author-clients.

If they don't actually put the books up at the retailers for the authors and collect all the money, then they're not the agents I'm talking about. That's a completely different relationship, one that makes me wonder how the agents get paid, but that's not the standard agent-assisted self-publishing relationship you're going to find from these services. Wouldn't you agree?


I agree that writers should be careful about these things, but please don't blanket all agents in together on this one.


I haven't. I'm talking about a specific relationship where the agents do the publishing (which seems to be the way most do it, though as you point out, not all).


But if they've talked with their agent, carried out appropriate research, and properly understand the benefits and the limitations of such an approach, are they really uninformed?

No, but I don't think most people dig that deeply, just like so many people who self-publish in general don't do enough research before they jump in. Someone who has done his due diligence is obviously not uninformed.

My opinion is what it is. It has changed a little, as I've said. I still don't view most such arrangements as any more favorable than vanity publishing arrangements. Some, though, are obviously what the authors have chosen after careful consideration, and they feel they're benefiting from them. That's the most important thing.

shelleyo
06-04-2014, 01:22 AM
I guess my question is, if someone can be set up with an agent. Then why don't they set them up with one of the big 5?

After that it seems like someone taking a reading fee, as I could probably find good services myself without having to pay a middle person like mentioned above (not the same as book agents), to make my cover, edit my book, and everything else.

I'm a bit skeptical of anyone searching for a cover designer for me, if it isn't the standard trade publication route.

Edit: In case that came off differently than how I meant, not pretending to be informed. I'm just a bit confused, as I've honestly never actually heard of that sort of thing before.

If you're asking what I think you are, the agent in an agent-assisted publishing agreement can either offer services through the agency like covers and editing, or simply recommend good ones to the author for which they presumably take no fee. The author then pays those services.

Some people are going to find the agent/agency feedback well worth the 15% fee, though. Having someone recommend a cover artist with suggestions on a cover design, or suggestions on where to take a series, promotional help and general advice can be worth the money to certain authors.

(I got a little bit of an education privately from someone in an agent-assisted self-publishing arrangement, and I was honestly surprised at the type of advice and help the author was getting. Hence my evolving opinion on the matter. I don't think it would be for me, but I can see its appeal. I can certainly see why this person is enthusiastic about it and pleased with the arrangement.)

In some cases it seems like the 15% is more a consulting fee than anything, and a really good agent may offer advice and help that's invaluable and worth even more than that.

It still feels like a conflict of interest down in my bones, but I'm less skeptical than I was. Anyway, I've derailed the thread. To bring it back around to the actual topic, I can see where, in some cases, agent-assisted publishing can be a good decision. I've yet to see where big publisher's with vanity arms have done anything but empty writers' pockets.

AdamNeymars
07-05-2014, 06:32 AM
Good news. Writers' Digest will no longer work with Author Solutions.

http://davidgaughran.wordpress.com/2014/06/23/writers-digest-dumps-author-solutions/



I have some huge news: Writer’s Digest has terminated its partnership with Author Solutions. Abbott Press- the imprint launched by Writer’s Digest, parent company F+W Media, and white-label vanity press provider Author Solutions – is still operational, but all ties to Writer’s Digest have been cut.
It appears that Abbott Press will now be run directly as yet another Author Solutions brand but Writer’s Digest and F+W Media will have no further connection with it.

Filigree
07-05-2014, 08:10 AM
Gaughran shares some interesting cautions in that post, more along the line 'this is one small battle in the war'.

I am glad to see Writers' Digest distancing themselves from Abbott. But WD has a long way to go before it reclaims its credibility. They need to scrutinize the publishers and agents they feature in advice columns, and either limit or *label* the more infamous outfits that buy ad space in WD.

I hope David can work with a news outlet to examine the shameful Author Solutions connection to major trade publishers. IMO, that dirty part of the industry causes more damage to authors than the Amazon dust-ups ever will.

But it's a matter of visibility: authors campaigning for or against Amazon have generally made the effort to be published, either by commercial publishers or through true self-publishing.

The authors harmed by companies like Author Solutions seem to be far more inexperienced (dilettantes, senior citizens and other 'family history' writers, misery memoir writers, members of obscure interest groups, and fringe conspiracy theorists who might not be commercially publishable anyway). So the victims of vanity publishers may not be as interesting to the news media.

Especially when local media outlets seem to fall over themselves to feature these vanity published authors in the first place, without any mention or comprehension of why vanity publishing is different from commercial or self-publishing. I don't know whether reporters are ashamed at their own complicity or just don't care. I certainly don't see the likelihood of a major news story (at Amazon/Hachette level) about AS or other vanity publishers.

Sheryl Nantus
07-06-2014, 12:21 AM
Did David Gaughran ever revise his errors in his how-to-self-pub book?

Just wondering...

Old Hack
07-06-2014, 12:51 AM
I looked at it a year or two ago and it was unchanged. All those errors and misleading statements were still in it. I can't find the thread here in which we brought them to his attention, but I remember it well.

JournoWriter
07-06-2014, 01:13 AM
Especially when local media outlets seem to fall over themselves to feature these vanity published authors in the first place, without any mention or comprehension of why vanity publishing is different from commercial or self-publishing. I don't know whether reporters are ashamed at their own complicity or just don't care. I certainly don't see the likelihood of a major news story (at Amazon/Hachette level) about AS or other vanity publishers.

Answer: They don't know or understand the difference.

Book publishing is an incredibly complex animal. Your average local news reporter is probably covering 3-5 news beats in addition to whatever filler copy gets tossed their way to write up. They don't have the time or the expertise to wrap their brains around these relationships. They get a press release, call up the author, do a 10-minute interview, scan the book briefly, get an author photo emailed, and write up a 500-word feature profile in 45 minutes. Done and on to the next story. They save the energy and brainpower for covering murders, city sewer rate increases, zoning & development disputes, and political campaigns.

shadowwalker
07-06-2014, 01:28 AM
Answer: They don't know or understand the difference.

Very true. Around here, it's not really considered a "news story" for them - it's "local person makes good". And the local readers don't really care about the details either. If they know the person, it's fantastic. If they don't, it's "one of ours did it!".

Sheryl Nantus
07-06-2014, 02:33 AM
I looked at it a year or two ago and it was unchanged. All those errors and misleading statements were still in it. I can't find the thread here in which we brought them to his attention, but I remember it well.

Ah.

Well, I won't be reading his columns or taking his advice then. If you can't be bothered to correct mistakes in your own work...

*shrugs*

I'm sure he'll be fine without my readership anyway.

Filigree
07-06-2014, 05:25 AM
He's occasionally fun to read, as long as one is aware of his errors and agenda. I'd no more take his advice 100% than I would follow WD's Chuck Sambuchino over a cliff.

AdamNeymars
02-21-2015, 09:24 AM
http://www.theindependentpublishingmagazine.com/2015/02/author-solutions-partner-imprint-bites-the-dust-with-the-closure-of-harlequins-dellarte-press.html
Author Solutions Partner Imprint Bites the Dust with the Closure of Harlequin’s DellArte Press


It was one of the early self-publishing service imprints to be launched by a major publisher in the USA. Back in November 2009, the launch of DellArte Press (Harlequin Horizons as it was then) — an imprint of romance publisher Harlequin — was operated under a partnership agreement with self-publishing service giant Author Solutions Inc. The launch of DellArte Press quickly followed a similar partnership Author Solutions had with Christian publisher Thomas Nelson. While self-publishing service imprints are now nothing new for the big five publishers, the reception to such imprints was very different in 2009. While Thomas Nelson escaped much of the backlash with its WestBow Press imprint, Harlequin drew considerable negative feedback from the traditionally published author community, particularly those published by Harlequin itself.


Preditors & Editors changed its listing for Harlequin to that of Vanity Publisher. The Romance Writers of America (RWA) briefly revoked Harlequin’s rating and benefits which it generally extended to all traditional publishers. The Mystery Writers of America (MWA) also took up the gauntlet and Harlequin, after several weeks, announced a change of name and some contract terms.

Thewitt
02-21-2015, 11:52 AM
Publishers are not in business to help authors, they are in business to make money.

Owning a vanity press is a lucrative business.

Were did this myth come from that publishers were in business to help authors?

DreamWeaver
02-21-2015, 06:05 PM
Strangely, it seems to come mostly from vanity presses. "Join us! We're a family! We're here to help the authors Big Publishing is blocking from getting their books out!"

IMHO, a publisher who spends their time selling themselves to authors instead of selling their books to readers is a pretty big red flag.

Filigree
02-21-2015, 07:55 PM
It's not a myth. It's just advertising copy designed to entice consumers (read: clueless authors) to part with their money. And it's ad copy that was developed by the vanity publishing industry.

Since 2009, I've researched thousands of agents and publishers. I've written a 350-page, thesis-level forensic examination of a couple of players in the vanity publishing world. I've watched dozens of authors get taken, progress through the honeymoon phase, and spiral down into despair, doubt, and self-pity.

They shouldn't. It's very easy to get played by bad publishers. I've done it several times in the art industry. It's how I finally know what to look for before I say 'yes' to anyone.

Some Iegit agents and publishers may use the code words 'achieve your dream' or 'we are a family'. So it behooves a writer to look deeper, upon seeing them in website copy or news articles. But virtually every incompetent or predatory agent and vanity publisher I've researched will tout similar phrases. They're meant to forestall questions, and generate a warm fuzzy feeling of mutual trust.